Before you ask, no, the PS3 isn’t getting an Xbox 360-equivalent Facebook interface in today’s version 3.10 Facebook-angled firmware release. That’s the bad news. The good news, if you’re PS3-do-or-die, is that it actually adds a few bits Microsoft’s implementation doesn’t support yet.
For starters, the newly integrated Facebook icon–it’s parked at the bottom of the XMB’s account management menu–allows you the option to pipe game trophies direct to your Facebook news feed as they’re acquired. Existing trophies come across in bundle updates–no deluges of individual bronze, silver, and gold missives cluttering your news outflow–after which they’ll ping in dynamically, one at a time.
You can also opt to share your PlayStation Store purchases and in-game events, but what about the tempest in a teacup over Uncharted 2’s game event Twitter updates? What if you want to filter specific events and purchases?
“We put a lot of things in place to make it really flexible,” said PSN director Eric Lempel in a phone interview. “So you can post what you’d like to post, especially if you’re playing a game that maybe you don’t want all your friends knowing about.”
Translation: If you turn on game events or store purchase information, you’ll be prompted by the system each time there’s an opportunity to post something–nothing goes out without your say-so.
“For example, say you’re in a racing game and you’ve just scored record time on some track,” said Lempel. “You’ll then get a note asking if you want to post the record to Facebook. You’ll just click a button to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
Which events qualify for updates? “That’ll be up to individual developers,” said Lempel.
By contrast, trophy information gets pushed out automatically, meaning it’s all-or-nothing when the option’s enabled.
“We didn’t want trophy-sharing to become something intrusive in the games,” said Lempel. “And just the way it works technically, it’s the best way for that to happen.”
Trophy synchronization’s been a sore point for some PS3 gamers, who dislike that it has to be performed manually, or that it can take awhile to complete. I asked Lempel whether Sony plans to automate or speed up the process.
“Not at this time,” he said. “You’re still synchronizing trophies as you do today in this update, by either clicking on the trophy icon or comparing your trophies to a friend’s.”
What about sharing purchase information? The positive angle’s that it allows players to broadcast their spending preferences and stimulate discussion with friends. The cynical one’s that it functions as a no-cost extension of Sony’s already mammoth marketing engine. Does the company think gamers will sign on?
“We’re not looking to spam anybody’s feed on Facebook,” said Lempel. “Again, if a user decides they want to share a purchase, that’s their choice. If they happen to purchase a lot of things, they can share all of those things or just a few or none. It’s really about what the user wants to share and what their friends want to see.”
“Gamers love to brag about everything,” he adds. “If you’re the first person to buy Fat Princess, that’s something you might want to let your friends know about. And in the long run, it helps all around, because it raises awareness for the game.”
For all it offers, Sony’s Facebook implementation lacks the broadly custom-tailored functionality of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 version, which launched yesterday. I asked Lempel if Sony planned to add similar features, like linking Facebook and PSN friends lists, browsing Facebook photo albums, dispatching custom status updates, and the possibility of taking screenshots from games, then posting them to your Facebook account.
“You can already access Facebook on the PS3 through the browser,” said Lempel, noting that Sony’s made improvements to the browser in the 3.10 firmware update he says enhance Facebook functionality.
“While we certainly could have made a native app that lets you do what you already can in the browser, we wanted to start off by doing something different. You can do all that stuff on a PC or in the PS3 browser, and we wanted to give our users a few things they can’t do today.”
“That said, this is just the beginning of our integration with Facebook,” says Lempel. “We’re in active talks with the company on a lot of different features, including some of the things you mentioned.”
I asked Lempel about Twitter support, another feature Microsoft added to its Xbox 360 dashboard yesterday, but currently only accessible non-natively through the PS3’s browser. Is Sony planning a Twitter interface as well?
“Not at this time,” said Lempel, though in denying any current plans, he appended an open-ended “just yet.”
On the other hand, features like background downloads of firmware updates may be in the offing. When asked about this, Lempel replied “It’s a great idea, and something we’ll definitely look at.”
In addition to Facebook update linking, firmware 3.10 also adds a grid-format photo display (contrast with the current single-column view) as well as the option to customize the background color of your PSN user profile.
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